woman walking up a steep stairway
PHOTO: Mirko Blicke

Disruptive technologies tend to have a common impact on business users: the combined excitement of trying something new and the urgent need to keep up with the competition often lead us to put the cart before the horse. We jump right in and start playing the game, fully intending to go back later and develop the rules. But it’s easier and a lot more fun to just keep playing — so that’s what most of us do as long as we can.

The internet was no different. And while it may no longer be new, it’s still disrupting the way we do business and will probably continue to do so as we find new and better ways to do business online.

Disruption Delays Policies

That constant disruption explains why so many companies never get around to developing digital policies: They’re too busy just keeping up. So that’s why I’m always thrilled when somebody addresses digital policies proactively instead of waiting until the company is in a full-blown crisis.

The challenge, however, is that it’s usually the folks working on the front lines on a particular aspect of the company’s digital presence who spot the risk and sound the alarm. 

While they usually do a great job of developing policies that support their own little slice of the pie, the policies they develop don’t address the organization’s overall needs. So you end up with the a bunch of ad hoc policies. 

Those policies are great as far as they go, but there’s nothing tying them together. What’s even riskier is that some very important considerations aren’t addressed at all.

Related Article: Build Your Case for Digital Policies With Help From the Front Lines

The Importance of Comprehensive Digital Policies

You can find custom, ad hoc digital policies in just about any functional area. But I’m going to focus on the content end of things, because it’s easy to demonstrate how content policies can look deceptively successful even though they really just scratch the surface of policy needs.

Let’s start by looking at some of the things content policies can successfully address:

  • What type of content will be posted and/or shared.
  • Essential components that each type of content must include. (For example, a content policy could include a rule that says, “All blog posts must have a headline, an intro, a body and a conclusion as well as SEO-optimized subheads.”)
  • Whether and how to allow user-generated content.
  • Where to source images and how to attribute them.
  • Specific language to use or avoid.
  • Essential steps to follow throughout the content creation process: keyword research, headline optimization, link building, promotion, etc.

Content policies that cover those topics are a good start, but without comprehensive digital policies, there’s no mechanism for fostering a consistent digital approach throughout the company. A company’s English website, for example, could have different policies than the Chinese version. Or the blog owner may follow different policies than the community manager. Those types of situations can yield a frustrating user experience. They can also cause companies to waste resources, especially if the lack of consistency results in a duplication of work from department to department.

A Policy Framework to Build On

Comprehensive digital policies could eliminate those problems by identifying the content rules that must always be followed, regardless of channel or customer need. Those rules could address things like how the company’s name will be used — “International Gadgets” versus “International Gadgets Inc.,” for example — as well as which versions of logos and trademarks must be used. Site navigation is another example of a policy that could be addressed on a companywide level.

But truly comprehensive digital policies address a lot more than content. They also address many inward-facing questions and issues that customers are rarely aware of, such as:

  • How regulatory compliance will be addressed and monitored in every jurisdiction where the company operates.
  • What technological resources the company will need.
  • Which digital channels the organization will focus on first.
  • Which languages will be prioritized for translation (based on the organization’s sales goals and projections) across all content resources and channels.
  • To what degree content channels will be used for customer service, and how much authority individual channel owners will have to resolve customer problems.
  • How and to what degree the company will use digital properties for crisis management.
  • How much customer data the company will collect and store.

Comprehensive digital policies also address who has the authority to make the decisions that result from the initial policies.

Sure, there’s some overlap between digital policies and content policies. That’s because content policies pick up where digital policies leave off, and different businesses will draw that line in different places. But to be effective, both digital and content policies have to work together as a unified whole. Content policies can’t survive without the framework of digital policies. And digital policies that ignore content have a fatal flaw that can undermine both customer experience and the effectiveness of the organization’s digital properties.

The Best Possible Outcome, For Organizations and Customers

If you have already created content policies (or digital policies specific to some other functional area), give yourself a pat on the back. You’re way ahead of the crowd. Now I’m going to challenge you to build on that success by drawing attention to the need for comprehensive digital policies and by explaining just how much the existence or lack of those policies can affect your organization’s success. 

Whether you’re talking to your peers over coffee or pitching your ideas to the C-suite, stress that only by focusing on both the strategic and tactical aspects of digital policy can you drive the best possible outcomes for both your organization and the customers you serve.